Ambien is a brand name for zolpidem and is in a class of prescription drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. Ambien activates the GABA neurotransmitter, which slows down your central nervous system. It’s prescribed to treat insomnia and is intended for short-term use. Ambien addiction treatment can be tricky but is important for recovery.
There are two forms of Ambien:
- A quick-release form that helps you fall asleep.
- An extended-release form that helps you stay asleep.
This non-benzodiazepine sleep drug was designed to have the same effect medically as Xanax without the habit-forming properties. The creators of Ambien marketed the drug as a less habit-forming alternative to benzos for people with acute insomnia. However, while it generally takes longer to develop an Ambien addiction than an addiction to benzos, Ambien is now recognized as having a similar potential for abuse.
Physical Dependence on Ambien (Ambien Addiction)
A physical dependence on Ambien could form in just a couple of weeks. Whether you’re following prescription directions or abusing it, Ambien dependence and tolerance can occur. After using Ambien long-term, you’ll begin needing more of it to feel the same effects. Suddenly quitting may cause withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, an Ambien dependence can become a full-blown addiction. You may not realize you have a problem until you stop taking the drug and can’t fall asleep without it.
Many Ambien addictions begin with insomnia. Ambien users may underestimate its addictive potential because it’s prescribed by a doctor. You only use it as a sleep aid. After you take Ambien for more than a couple of weeks though, it becomes less effective, and you might need a higher dose. From there, it’s difficult to stop taking Ambien because your insomnia has progressed, and you can’t sleep without it. At this point, some form of Ambien dependency treatment may be necessary.
What Is Ambien (Zolpidem)?
Zolpidem is a sleep aid used to treat chronic and acute insomnia. The most recognizable brand name of zolpidem is Ambien. The medicine is a sedative-hypnotic drug that affects neurotransmitters. It slows down brain activity to help you fall asleep.
Other Forms of Zolpidem
While Ambien is the most well-known brand name of zolpidem, the drug is also available as:
- Edluar (sublingual tablet, taken underneath the tongue)
- Zolpimist (oral spray)
- Intermezzo (fast-acting sublingual tablet)
- Ambien CR (two-layer extended-release tablet)
Since zolpidem’s introduction to the market, it’s been viewed as a safer alternative to other sleep medications like highly addictive benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Zolpidem is one of the most commonly prescribed sleep aids for insomnia in the U.S. Although zolpidem is generally considered safe when taken as directed, misuse and abuse may bring on side effects like memory loss, dependence, and drug addiction. Ambien has also been connected with potentially dangerous side effects, such as parasomnias.
How Does Ambien Work?
Ambien works on neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters act as chemical messengers. They carry, boost, and balance signals between neurons, or nerve cells in the body. Individual proteins, called receptors, bind to certain neurotransmitters to release messages that affect thoughts and behavior.
Ambien binds to specific receptors to slow brain activity. The effects of zolpidem are mostly linked to GABA receptors, which primarily inhibit the activity of neurons. This slows and halts action in certain parts of your brain, decreasing activity levels in the parts of the brain responsible for processing thoughts. Ultimately, zolpidem helps slow thought processes, so you can fall asleep more easily.
The hippocampus is also affected by zolpidem. It plays an essential role in memory formation. In mice studies, Ambien has been shown to reduce activity in this region, thereby promoting sleep.
Risks and Dangers of Ambien Addiction
People who abuse Ambien should be aware of the following risks and dangers:
Memory Loss and Abnormal Behavior
Ambien has become notorious for causing memory loss and strange actions while in a sleepy-not-quite-asleep state. Makers of the drug say these side effects are nearly nonexistent in users who take the drug correctly, and those sleep-related activities while on zolpidem are usually limited to relatively normal activities, such as sleepwalking and talking in your sleep.
Contradictions With Other Drugs
Before beginning zolpidem, you should discuss any other medications or herbal supplements you’re taking with your doctor. Taking other medicines that affect the brain, along with zolpidem, could be dangerous, leading to breathing problems or other life-threatening conditions.
Contradiction With Alcohol
Alcohol acts as a depressant, suppressing the central nervous system and respiratory system. It should not be taken with zolpidem, which can compound these depressant properties. Doing so could slow or stop breathing.
Although the research is preliminary, there is some concern that long-term Ambien use can lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Is Ambien Addictive or Habit-Forming?
While zolpidem is considered a safe and effective drug for insomnia and sleep disorders, it can become addictive as well. After prolonged use, you can experience dependence and withdrawal when you stop using Ambien.
Since its FDA approval, zolpidem has been considered a much safer alternative to older-generation sleeping pills, particularly barbiturates. Though they were once commonly prescribed for insomnia, barbiturates are highly addictive and dangerous. You can quickly develop a tolerance and dependence on these drugs.
Drug manufacturers claim that when used as directed, zolpidem withdrawal symptoms are uncommon. However, zolpidem can easily be misused or abused, with recreational use or an “extra dose” becoming normal. Since users often desperately want to sleep, they may double up on doses if sleep still eludes them with regular use.
Zolpidem abuse is most common among teenagers, young adults, and those with substance use problems. People who abuse Ambien often combine it with other substances of abuse, like alcohol. Combining substances in this manner compounds the effects of Ambien and puts you at risk for adverse reactions, like an overdose.
What Are Ambien Side Effects?
Ambien side effects depend on several factors such as your individual make-up, how long you’ve been taking Ambien, and how much Ambien you take. Side effects may include:
- REM sleep suppression (negatively impacting sleep quality)
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Back pain
- Irregular heartbeat or breathing difficulties
- Allergic reactions
- Flu-like symptoms, sore throat, or sinus problems
- Dry mouth
Rarely, more serious side effects are experienced by those who use Ambien, such as:
- Serious depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Aggressive, out-of-character behavior
- Memory loss
- Allergic reaction
- Withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use
- Performing unusual activities while asleep (sleepwalking or sleep talking, driving, cooking, etc.)
Anyone experiencing severe side effects from Ambien should talk to their doctor.
The Link Between Ambien and Suicide
Some research suggests that using sedative hypnotics like Ambien increases the risk of suicidal thoughts in people with a history of depression. Limited case studies suggest Ambien is also linked to suicidal ideation in people who don’t have a mental illness. This includes a case study of a man at 27 years of age with no psychological disorders who experienced thoughts of suicide after using 20mg of Ambien. The link between Ambien and suicide is non-reliable at this point because controlled studies are limited on the association.
What Are Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms?
Zolpidem has long been considered a safe and generally less habit-forming drug compared to new alternative drugs for sleeping disorders. Although zolpidem abuse and dependence are now appearing more widespread than once thought, there is minimal research on zolpidem addiction and withdrawal.
Reports of zolpidem withdrawal indicate that the severity of symptoms will likely depend on your physical health as well as the length and intensity of zolpidem use.
Zolpidem withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Tremors in the hands
- Excessive sweating
- Aches and pains
- Racing pulse or hyperventilation
- Aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety or panic
- Flu-like symptoms
Ambien Addiction Detox
Detoxing from Ambien usually involves a tapering down approach. By gradually reducing the amount of Ambien doses over time, your body will slowly readjust to functioning without Ambien. A tapered-down detox process will help keep your body from becoming overactive, which could lead to panic attacks, high blood pressure, and convulsions.
Some people can taper off Ambien within two weeks, while it may take months for others. In both cases, the goal of Ambien detox is to minimize discomfort and withdrawal symptoms.
If you show two or more of the following signs, it may indicate an addiction to Ambien that requires medical detox:
- Unable to cut down on the dosage
- Taking Ambien in increasing amounts without doctor supervision
- Experiencing Ambien withdrawal symptoms
- Developing a tolerance to Ambien
- Using Ambien despite negative effects on your health and life
- Spending a lot of time using and recovering from Ambien
- Inability to carry out work, home, or school obligations
- Giving up hobbies and activities
- Taking Ambien with alcohol or other drugs
Unfortunately, there’s limited knowledge about how an Ambien addiction affects mental health in the long term. Withdrawing from Ambien can lead to anxiety, which could persist after the detox process.
A medical detox center will evaluate you, stabilize your symptoms, and prepare you for addiction treatment. Medically supervised detox is crucial when stopping Ambien due to the potential for withdrawal symptoms, especially if you use other substances like alcohol or benzos.
Treatment for Ambien Addiction
Treatment for zolpidem addiction may include a tapering off the drug as well as behavioral therapy. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, but a physician can make the process more comfortable.
If you’ve been abusing Ambien, you’ll likely need professional addiction treatment. This will help you understand the reasons why you’re misusing substances, so you can address them, and get better. Everyone’s experience with addiction is unique. Your background, behavioral patterns, personal history, relationship with addiction, and level of physical addiction or dependence on the drug will all play a part in designing a treatment plan.
Ambien Addiction Treatment Program
Addiction rehab options include inpatient rehab or outpatient treatment programs. Inpatient treatment is for people who need hands-on, round-the-clock care. If you’re abusing other substances like alcohol or benzos along with Ambien, inpatient treatment may be the most effective option. Outpatient programs are best for people with less severe signs of Ambien addiction.
Regardless of which route is chosen, most inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities will offer medically managed drug or alcohol detox as part of the treatment program. However, treating Ambien addiction is much more complicated than just making it through the withdrawal process. Combining the tapering off process with other therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy will improve the chances of a more successful recovery.
Components of effective addiction treatment include:
Underlying issues — such as trauma, co-occurring disorders, and dysfunctional thought patterns — are often at the root of abuse of Ambien. Therapy can help drug abusers work through these issues and learn new coping and life skills. While some people are wary of psychoanalyzing old events or thoughts, modern therapy is often more focused on solutions-based techniques that help navigate the path to recovery as well as to maintain sobriety in the real world. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can help you react to situations and stressors more effectively and proactively change destructive thought patterns. Treatment comes in many forms. Many programs use a combination of various types of therapy that work best for the individual.
Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, medications may be used to make the experience more comfortable or safe. While there aren’t medications specifically used to address Ambien withdrawal, individual symptoms can be treated as needed. After withdrawal, non-habit-forming medication may be prescribed to manage underlying mental health issues, like anxiety or depression.
A Long-Term Plan
There isn’t a quick fix for addiction. Recovery requires an ongoing aftercare plan after the initial phase of intense treatment. Addiction treatment professionals can help you devise a full program that supports sobriety for the long term.
Exercise and Wellness Practices
Regular exercise can positively impact your health and overall well-being. Through methods like yoga or meditation, you can learn breathing and calming techniques that can help you cope with triggers to return to substance abuse.
How Long Does Ambien Treatment Take?
The time it takes to recover from Ambien abuse is different for everyone. Some people will have a taper schedule of a few weeks, while others may need much longer taper schedules. The length of taper schedules and withdrawal symptoms depend on factors like how long you’ve been taking Ambien and in what quantities.
Structured drug rehab for substance abuse will also vary by individual. Some people may gain the relapse prevention skills they need within a month, whereas others will benefit from 90-day programs or longer. It depends on the severity of your addiction and individual situation.
What Happens After Ambien Addiction Treatment?
Your recovery work doesn’t stop after you’ve detoxed from Ambien and attended an addiction treatment program. Triggers to use drugs and alcohol are still there when you leave treatment. Recovery requires constant attention and dedication. Activities and practices that support long-term recovery may include:
- Individual therapy
- 12-step groups and other support groups
- Alumni meetings at your treatment center
- Psychiatry appointments for medication management
- Exercise and proper nutrition
- Healthy hobbies
- Daily structure and routine
Does Insurance Cover Rehab for Ambien Abuse?
Your insurance may cover all or a portion of treatment for substance use disorders. Most insurance plans are required to cover mental health treatment the same way as they do medical conditions. Your insurance may cover inpatient or outpatient treatment. Sometimes you will need to meet a deductible or pay a portion of the cost depending on if the provider is in-network with your insurance. If you are unsure if your insurance will cover addiction treatment, call us. We will work directly with your insurance provider to determine your coverage.
Taking the First Step Towards Ambien Addiction Treatment
Often, the first step on the journey to recovery is the toughest. Recovery is hard work, but we believe you’ll find it’s well worth it. Footprints to Recovery offers evidence-based addiction and dual diagnosis treatment. As you progress in Ambien addiction recovery, you’ll build a healthy life that supports your sobriety. Though the first step can be hard, it is well worth taking.
At Footprints to Recovery, our inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs provide resources for medical detox along with counseling to work through behaviors that have led to Ambien abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with Ambien addiction and are ready to quit, contact our dedicated treatment specialists here at Footprints to recovery to find out about Ambien addiction treatment options today.